REPRESENTATION MATTERS | Representative Lois Galgay Reckitt

This is part of The Humanist’s monthly series highlighting openly nonreligious elected officials across the nation. Because of the work of the Center for Freethought Equality, the political and advocacy arm of the American Humanist Association, there are now ninety elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels who identify with the atheist and humanist community serving in thirty states across the country. Join the Center for Freethought Equality to help politically empower the atheist and humanist community—membership is FREE.

The Center for Freethought Equality’s advances have been groundbreaking. Prior to the 2016 election, there were only five state legislators and no members of Congress who publicly identified with our community; because of its efforts, we have sixty state legislators today—a twelve-fold increase – and a member of Congress, Jared Huffman (CA-2), who publicly identify with our community. It is critical that our community connect and engage with the elected officials who represent our community and our valuesyou can see a list of these elected officials here.

Representative Lois Galgay Reckitt

Representing House District 31 in South Portland, Maine

 “My grandfather had a worldview that always appealed to me. His belief was that it didn’t matter if you believed…if you lived an honest, moral, and compassionate life, if there was indeed a hereafter, you would be there. And, if not, it was a life worth living fully.”

Representative Lois Galgay Reckitt was first elected to Maine’s House of Representatives in 2016, where she currently serves on the Judiciary Committee and the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. A feminist, human rights activist, LGBTQ+ rights activist, and domestic violence advocate, her decades of leadership on civil rights have been widely recognized, from the 1996 Outstanding Contribution to Law Enforcement award to the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, and her induction into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998.

Reckitt helped establish the Family Crisis Shelter in Portland, Maine, where she served as executive director for over three decades. During that time, she successfully lobbied for legal reforms to protect victims of domestic abuse, leading to the passage of anti-stalking legislation, a domestic violence homicide review panel, and gun control measures for abusers. At the national level, she served on the board of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence for nearly a decade, including two years as the coalition’s president.

In 1984, she moved to Washington, DC, where she served for three years as executive vice president of the National Organization for Women, and fourteen years as a board member. Reckitt co-founded the Maine chapter of the National Organization for Women and also helped establish several organizations advancing women’s rights in Maine, including Maine Right to Choose and the Maine Women’s Lobby.

A staunch advocate for human rights, Reckitt helped established the Maine Coalition for Human Rights and the Human Rights Campaign Fund, a political action committee that she co-founded in 1980 and served as deputy director for two years.

An open lesbian, Reckitt helped establish the Matlovich Society for gay rights and AIDS awareness and currently serves as an advisory committee member of the LGBT Collection at the University of Southern Maine.

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she earned her Bachelor’s degree in biology at Brandeis University and her Master’s degree in marine biology and biological oceanography at Boston University. Reckitt lives with her wife in South Portland, Maine.

Sarah Levin: What motivated you to run for office?

Lois Galgay Reckitt: Since 1971, I have been an activist and organizer in the local, state, national, and international movements for women’s equality. That included my role in establishing the National Organization for Women (NOW) in Maine; co-founding Maine Right to Choose; beginning, with others, the initial push for LGBTQ equality in Maine; co-founding the Maine Women’s Lobby; co-founding and serving as a member of the inaugural Board of the Human Rights Campaign Fund (now HRC); serving as national Executive Vice President of NOW; serving as National President of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence; and working for over thirty years to stop violence against women and support the victims/survivors of abuse.

For all those years I have been a citizen lobbyist for equality causes. Upon my retirement, while beginning to adjust to living predominantly on Social Security benefits, my concentration shifted to being a “mover” and not just a “shaker.” So, with the help of my extensive experience and subsequent training from EMERGE, I jumped into the fray.

Levin: What are your policy priorities and how does your nonreligious worldview impact your policy platform?

Reckitt: My grandfather had a worldview that always appealed to me. His belief was that it didn’t matter if you believed…if you lived an honest, moral, and compassionate life, if there was indeed a hereafter, you would be there. And, if not, it was a life worth living fully. Consequently, my policy platforms have always been based on those principles—equity and justice—especially for those who struggle, are underserved, or are discriminated against. Fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment and women’s rights in all arenas, reproductive freedom, racial justice, indigenous peoples’ rights, and LGBTQ rights has been my life’s mission.

Levin: Why was it important for you to be open about your nonreligious identity?

Reckitt: I was brought up Protestant, converted to Catholicism while attending a Jewish University, and often describe myself as an ecumenical person. I studied Sociology of Religion while at Brandeis University. I am moderately well-versed in religious doctrine and have no quarrel with those who believe—and recognize that many religious organizations do caring and compassionate work. But I myself am an agnostic—and am comfortable being so.

However, in certain circumstances, I silently protest the infusion of religion into our politics. For instance, I happily recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of Legislative Sessions. But I never utter the words “under God,” which were inserted when I was ten years old by Eisenhower. When prayers in those same sessions look to be offensive to me…I may well arrive late.

Levin: How did voters respond (if at all) to your openness about your nonreligious identity?

Reckitt: Frankly, I have no idea if my constituents know of my religious beliefs or lack thereof. What I believe they do know is that I strive at all times to be a compassionate and caring person who looks out for their secular issues as best I can.

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